City Missions (1953)

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City missions are a form of home mission work or church extension, practiced in one form or another by most Protestant and Catholic churches. In European countries, where because of the state church system the entire population was nominally Christian, city missions were an organized attempt to reach and reclaim for the church the large numbers of city people who had become alienated from the church and Christianity because of the peculiar conditions of life in the cities, in particular modern industrialization, or who, having left the home villages and small towns, had not established connections with the church in their new city homes. In England the free or nonconformist churches also established city missions among the Christian population nominally belonging to the state church. The same was true of the work of the free churches on the European continent, where such denominations as Methodist, Baptist, and Brethren have established themselves largely through city mission work. In the United States and Canada where, except in Catholic Quebec, there have been no state churches since early times, city missions have been largely church extension work (the new congregation often being called a "mission" so long as it is not self-supporting), or have taken the form of "rescue" missions among the down-and-out. Another form consists in institutional social service work in slum and underprivileged areas, often called "institutional churches."


Apparently the first city mission was the one organized in Glasgow in 1826. The London City Mission was next organized in 1835 with the help of Lord Shaftesbury. Both of these missions were in effect united activities of already existing Christian action societies. In Germany J. H. Wichern, influenced by the London City Mission, began similar work in 1848 by organizing the "Hamburg Society for Inner Mission." The German "Inner Mission" work grew largely after that time. By 1900, 70 other German cities had followed the example of Hamburg (and Berlin). The YMCA, organized in England in 1844, originally contributed much to city mission work. The Salvation Army, organized by William Booth in London in 1865 (1878), was essentially a city mission organization.

United States

The New York City Mission and Tract Society, a nondenominational group, the oldest organization for city mission work in North America, was organized first as a band of volunteer workers to encourage nonchurch people to attend the city's churches, then (by 1833) began to employ paid workers, and finally (1867) began to build churches. Later it organized institutional churches. Its example was followed in many other cities of the United States and Canada. However, most denominations soon organized "home mission" work in the cities, sometimes under this name, sometimes as "city missions" or as "church extension." The enormous flood of foreign immigration in the 19th century led to much city mission work among immigrant groups.


City mission work was unknown among Mennonites anywhere except in the United States and Canada. Apart from the original Germantown village church in 1683, the first truly city churches in America were established in Philadelphia (General Conference Mennonite Church) in 1865, in Elkhart, Indiana (Mennonite Church (MC), in 1871 and Lancaster, Pennsylvania (Mennonite Church), in 1876; the city of Kitchener (Berlin) grew up around the First Mennonite Church (Mennonite Church, 1813) of that city. Apart from the late rise of such city churches, North American Mennonitism were exclusively rural and is still remained largely so in the 1950s. This rural character combined with the late rise of the missionary and philanthropic interest among the Mennonites accounted for the complete lack of interest and work in city missions until the end of the 19th century.

The first North American Mennonite city missions were established by the Mennonite Church (MC): Chicago 1893, Lancaster 1896, Philadelphia 1899, Canton (Ohio) 1903, Fort Wayne (Indiana) 1905. This type of work in the denomination grew steadily and in almost all major sections of this group one or more city missions were established. After World War II a new burst of activity followed, especially in the East. In 1953 the yearbook of this group listed 256 home missions with a membership of 5,597, most of which were in cities or towns. The Mennonite Brethren in Christ group was the next to start city mission work, with South Bend, Indiana, in 1895, Dayton, Ohio, in 1896, Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1897. In the early decades of the 20th century this small denomination was at one time operating over 100 city missions. Gradually almost all of these became established congregations, and in later times the church extension type of work largely superseded the city mission type. The Central Conference Church started the first of its city missions in 1909 in Chicago with later a second in Chicago, and one in Peoria. The General Conference Mennonite Church started its first city mission, originally known as River Street Mission, in 1910 in Los Angeles, followed by one in Chicago in 1914. The church extension emphasis has always dominated over the city mission interest and consequently few city missions were ever operated at one time. In the Mennonite Brethren Church each district conference operated at least one city mission, and the Mennonite Brethren General Conference agency operated two city missions in the 1950s—at Minneapolis and Winnipeg. Some of the smaller groups (Krimmer Mennonite Brethren, Evangelical Mennonite Church) established one or more city missions by the 1950s. At one time there were nine Mennonite city missions in Chicago operated by six different conferences.

Administratively the Mennonite city missions in North America have been either under home mission or city mission boards or societies, or directly under conference mission committees or district conference administration. Only in the Mennonite Church (MC) and the General Conference Mennonite Church were foreign missions and home (city) missions combined under one board. In character many of the city missions served the combined purpose of ministering to rural Mennonites moving to the city, and of evangelizing non-Christians and non-Mennonites. Except in the case of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ, the city mission efforts have not been successful in establishing strong "indigenous" city congregations composed of non-Mennonite converts. The rural mindset, frequent lack of trained workers, inability to adapt to new conditions, and similar facts have been handicaps.

See also Urban Church


The Annual Report of the Mennonite Board of Missions and Charities (1905-1999) regularly contained descriptive and statistical summaries of the city mission work of the Mennonite Church (MC). The printed reports of other conference mission boards, as well as certain conference yearbooks, also contained some information and statistical data.

Eash, A. M. After Ten Years [26th Street Mennonite Mission in Chicago 1906-16]. Chicago, 1916.

Erb, Alta Mae. Our Home Missions. Scottdale, PA: Mennonite Publishing House, 1920.

Erb, Alta Mae. Studies in Mennonite City Missions. Scottdale, PA: Mennonite Publishing House, 1937.

Huffman, Jasper A. History of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ Church. New Carlisle, O.: The Bethel Pub. Co, 1920: Chapter XV, 202-213. Available in full electronic text at

Kaufman, Edmund G. The Development of the Missionary and Philanthropic Interest Among the Mennonites of North America. Berne, Ind., 1931.

Mininger, J. D. Exalting Christ in the City, or the Why, What, and How of City Missions. Scottdale, PA: Mennonite Publishing House, 1937.

Oyer, Emma. What Hath God Wrought in a Half Century at the Mennonite Home Mission. [Chicago] Elkhart, IN: Mennonite Board of Missions and Charities, 1949.

Author(s) Harold S Bender
Date Published 1953

Cite This Article

MLA style

Bender, Harold S. "City Missions (1953)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1953. Web. 26 Apr 2019.

APA style

Bender, Harold S. (1953). City Missions (1953). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 26 April 2019, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, pp. 603-604. All rights reserved.

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